Old Testament

Wisdom and Poetical Books

What do references to time mean in the book of Daniel?

Daniel uses puzzling phrases when talking about time. Scholars continue to debate the meaning of the phrases. For instance, Daniel says several times that something will happen in “a time, two times, and half a time.” No one knows for sure what this phrase means, but there are a couple of prevalent theories. One theory is that “a time” is one year. So the phrase might mean three-and-a-half years. Another theory is that the phrase means a really long time of unspecified duration.

Other time-related terms appear in Daniel 9 when Gabriel speaks to Daniel. Gabriel says, “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city; to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness.…” (NRSV, Daniel 9:24) Again, no one knows for sure what the times mean, but there are theories. Some think that the seventy weeks are interpreted to mean seventy times seven (or 490) years. Others think the seventy weeks are interpreted to mean seventy weeks literally. Still others think the number seventy is symbolic of a time known only to God.

Also, debate continues as to whether Daniel’s dreams addressed events in Daniel’s time (or soon after his time), or events that have yet to take place.


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